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To my knowledge there are three words which can be used in thanking and they seem to be usable together in some combinations:

  • どうも (domo)
  • どうもありがとう (domo arigato)
  • ありがとう (arigato)
  • ありがとうございます (arigato gozaimasu)
  • どうもありがとうございます (domo araigato gozaimasu)

Are there nuances of each of these words? I know "domo" alone is informal and I assume the longer the combination the more formal or respectful.

Are there rules as to how they can and can't be combined? (Did I include any wrong combinations)?

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I can at least confirm that these five combinations are correct and all the other combinations of these three words are incorrect. Clearly there are many other words to express thanks, but what you listed are the most often used (I think). –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 2 '11 at 14:49
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by stretching a little bit you could add: よろしく、ごちそう、ごくろう and their derivatives. There are contexts in which each of these words can be translated as "thank you for~"。 –  repecmps Jun 2 '11 at 15:13
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And on that line of thought, we mustn't forget the straight-up 感謝します (かんしゃします). –  Derek Schaab Jun 2 '11 at 15:26
    
サンキュー! さんきゅう! :) –  repecmps Jun 2 '11 at 15:31
    
@rep シェシェ!  謝謝! :) –  YOU Jun 2 '11 at 15:33

6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

You can't just gloss words like that with Japanese (i.e. Thank you = arigatou, go = iku etc.)

To express thankfulness, there is a whole palette of expressions that Japanese people use.

For example:

  1. yoroshiku: said after you have asked someone a big favor and they haven't done it yet but have promised to do it.
  2. tasukatta: means like "thanks man I appreciate it".
  3. o-seiwa ni natta: said after someone helped you out when you were in a bind.
  4. kansha shimasu: I'm truly thankful.
  5. arigatou: thanks man.
  6. arigatou gozaimasu: said to people you should respect.
  7. o-tsukare: thanks in appreciation for someone's hard effort.
  8. o-tsukare sama deshita: same as above but towards people you should respect.
  9. gokuro sama: like "good job man" thanks for doing the work that you were supposed to do anyways.
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+1 well said. Also it's possible to compile a non-exhaustive list using dictionaries like jisho.org/words?jap=&eng=thank&dict=edict –  repecmps Jun 2 '11 at 15:27
    
Great list, covers more than I thought would come up for this answer. Only thing I would add is すみません –  Ali Jun 2 '11 at 20:55
    
The english explanation of gokuro sama makes it sound slightly sarcastic. Perhaps "You fulfilled your duties well" –  jkerian Jun 17 '11 at 15:24
    
@jkerian, I completely agree with you but would like to add to that. Gokurosama can also be used by a father or boss etc non-sarcastically when someone actually does fulfill the job their superior asked them to do. It is a way for a superior to commend someone under them. I think in English we do this too, to a degree. –  Joshua Robison Jun 18 '11 at 8:01
    
I think I've seen ootsukare shortened in informal (internet) circumstances to "otsu". –  Karl Knechtel Aug 18 '11 at 6:12

A page I linked recently had it schematised, I'll report it here in a better way:

There are different ways to thank someone in Japanese depending on who you are speaking to. Just like other phrases in Japanese the politeness levels change in different settings.

  • どうもありがとうございます [dōmo arigatō gozaimasu] Most polite;
  • ありがとうございます [arigatō gozaimasu] Very polite;
  • どうもありがとう [dōmo arigatō] More polite;
  • ありがとう [arigatō] Polite;
  • どうも [dōmo] Casual.

The word ございます (gozaimasu) is a polite ending that can also be changed into past tense. When you thank someone for something that already happened you would say:

  • ありがとうございました [arigatō gozaimashita]

The words arigatō and dōmo can be used for both the present and past situations:

  • 昨日はどうも [kinō wa dōmo] = Thank you for yesterday.

Note: Sometimes you will see arigatou written in kanji (有り難う), but it is not as common as seeing it written in hiragana.

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Personally, I would put どうも and ありがとう on the same level (Casual) and どうもありがとう and ありがとうございます on the same level (Polite), but this is an excellent summary. –  Derek Schaab Jun 2 '11 at 15:15
    
Actually I've read some comments (made by native speakers) saying どうも is better (more polite) than ありがとう. You shouldn't address a 店員さん with ありがとう but a どうも with the proper 口調 is fine. –  Kokoroatari Jul 11 at 16:05

I'm surprised no one mentioned すみません yet.

See this answer to another question about thanks.

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Well, he asked only about those combinations... :D –  Alenanno Jun 3 '11 at 8:32

I would use

  • どうもありがとうございます/ました at speech

  • ありがとうございます/ました to superiors, and business

Other threes to colleges and my juniors, to some friends.

ありがとうございます's slang form あざーっす to some close friends/colleges

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+1 for including the slang あざーっす. –  Derek Schaab Jun 2 '11 at 15:17
    
I concur (on a side note it's the transcription of someone saying ありがとございます extremely fast) –  repecmps Jun 2 '11 at 15:40

To put it in a more of an English equivalency you can compare them to the following:

•Thanks - どうも (domo)

•Thanks a lot (or much thanks) - どうもありがとう (domo arigato)

•Thanks (more polite than domo) ありがとう (arigato)

•Thank you ありがとうございます (arigato gozaimasu)

•Thank you very much - どうもありがとうございます (domo araigato gozaimasu)

From my experience and understanding (though not an expert in Japanese etymology) domo arigato was not much used until after the Styx song, which almost every Japanese I have met knows or knows of. In more conservative regions or with more traditional people you will generally not hear it being used, but rather they would use arigato gozaimasu.

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It's important to realize that there are two dimensions at play here. One is the "heartfelt" dimension, and the other is the "formality" dimension.

Both ありがとう and どうもありがとう are casual in the sense that you should only use them with people that you do not use 丁寧語 with. どうもありがとう shows more sincerity than ありがとう, but even (本当に)どうもありがとう would not be appropriate to, say, your boss.

ありがとうございます and どうもありがとうございます are for people that you use 丁寧語 with. Again the version with どうも is more heartfelt. Some people might feel that it is also more formal, but I would say that is merely because very formal situations often call for exaggerated words of sincerity. You would not use ありがとうございます with, say, a close friend who you do not use 丁寧語 with, no matter how grateful you are, except maybe for comic effect.

As for どうも by itself, the situation is a bit complicated. You will often hear どうも used in situations where the speaker would use 丁寧語, but depending on the formality of the situation, it might be seen as a bit curt. Note, though, that it would be a different reaction from the one that one might get using ありがとう which might be seen as downright disrespectful.

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